The second round begins and with Paul gone, the team is down to eight members. Will they do better this time?
Lance had hoped for a break between rounds, but it didn't take much more than ninety seconds for the production crew and the Hostess to be locked, loaded and ready to fire. Dad blew him a kiss when he looked behind him, and he waved excitedly. He didn't go home first. That was an achievement in itself! But when up against such strong contenders, how long could he hope to remain in the game?
I got all three questions right last round, he reminded himself. I can do this. I can.
The Hostess stepped back up to the central podium, and five seconds later, the musical notes signalled the start of the second round. She launched right into it.
"Round two! You have one thousand, eight hundred and fifty pounds of a possible five thousand pounds in the bank and we're taking ten seconds off your time. But no need to worry, you still have two minutes and fifty seconds, as well as the incredibly important Casey, who insists that she has, in her own words, a wealth of knowledge." Lance snickered. "We'll start with the strongest link from the last round, and that's Jamie. Let's play The Weakest Link. Start the clock.
Lance was one place counterclockwise of Jamie, so he would be the last to answer a question in this round.
"Jamie, according to the common phrase, people who work hard for minimal pay are said to be paid for which bar snacks?"
"Correct. Nathan, in a factory what 'P' is the term for a wooden tray used in conjunction with a forklift truck for lifting and stacking heavy loads?"
"Ahh... a pallet."
"Correct. Casey, in wildlife, what 'A' precedes wolf, hare and fox to make the names of three mammals native to the polar regions of the northern hemisphere?"
"Arctic," Casey answered immediately, far quicker than Lance would have been able to. It was a relief to see her give the right answer.
"Correct. Eliza, in slang, a garage mechanic is popularly known as a what monkey?"
A thousand pounds in the kitty.
"In music, the song released in 2008 titled 'Just Dance' is the debut single of which American pop singer?"
Cian laughed and shook his head. "Miley Cyrus?"
Lance felt personally attacked by that answer. He would have given anything to be asked questions about pop culture! They were wasted on Cian, apparently. At least the athlete banked before giving the wrong answer.
"Lady Gaga," the Hostess corrected him. "Well banked," she added, turning to the next contestant. "Alyssa, in a standard symphony orchestra, the four bowed string instruments in order of pitch are the double bass, the cello, the viola and which other?"
Alyssa shrugged gracefully. "The harp?"
Is this bitch serious? How does a singer know nothing about music and syllables?
"Violin," the Hostess had a bite in her voice as she corrected her. "Grace, in astrology, the crab is the symbol for which sign of the zodiac?
For the first time, Grace didn't answer immediately. She paused. "Cancer."
"Correct. Lance," the Hostess turned to him. "In geography, which ocean lies on the western coast of the United States of America?"
Lance felt dread strike his heart. He didn’t know much at all about geography. "Atlantic?"
"No, the Pacific."
His blood turned cold. Those were the only two oceans that he knew, and he still picked the wrong one! How could he not know something like that? Everyone else no doubt thought that was an easy question. Would they vote him off? Was his game over just like that? He gripped his left arm with his right hand and forced himself to breathe.
"Jamie, in snooker, what colour is the highest valued ball?"
"Correct. Nathan, in the rules of chess, which piece can only legally move diagonally?"
"The Queen," he answered immediately.
"No, the Bishop. Casey, in the House of Commons, what colour are the seats: green or red?"
Lance, though he wanted as much dosh in the pot as possible, found himself relieved to see other people doing poorly. Aside from his blunder, four other people had given incorrect answers throughout the round. If he were lucky, some of the others might even forget that he'd probably fail to find his own arse with a map.
"Eliza, what 'V' is a state in Australia and a type of spongecake?"
"Victoria," Eliza answered confidently. She was good.
"Correct. Cian, in fashion," - Cian reeled back in despair - "what name is given to the tartan skirt traditionally worn by men in the Scottish highlands?"
The Scottish athlete's eyes twinkled. "Ooh, a kilt!"
"Correct!" The Hostess teased him. "Alyssa, in maths, what is nine plus twelve?"
Alyssa took a few seconds to think before answering. "Twenty-one."
"Correct. Grace, in children's TV, which famous cartoon couple lived in Bedrock?"
The dancer, who had been reeling from the shock of getting the last question wrong, snapped to attention. Oh! He should have banked! But it was too late now! She was already asking the question!
"In music, which American Rock band beginning with 'K' shares its name with a four-letter word that describes an act of physical affection?"
Lance bit the inside of his chrome painted lip hard. This was the fifth question of nine in the chain. It was worth one thousand, five hundred pounds. If he got this one wrong, he was a goner for sure.
I needed to bank. Why didn't I bank?
Then it came to him, and he blurted it out. "Kiss!"
"Correct." The Hostess left him, and Lance felt weak in the legs, leaning on his podium with both hands. "Jamie, in expressions, the phrase containing a word for a pig meaning to do something thoroughly is to go the whole what?"
Jamie still floated a perfect score by Lance's recollection. Grace too, but he didn't expect any less from her. Being the high school dropout between them was nothing short of terrifying. But they'd made it so high in the chain! Six correct answers in a row! Nathan's question was worth three thousand pounds!
"Nathan, which kitchen appliance is designed solely for storing items that need to be kept at a temperature below zero degrees Celsius?"
"Freezer," he reached up to scratch the back of his head.
Seven consecutive correct answers! Casey's question was the eighth, and it was worth four thousand pounds! Cian had already banked one thousand pounds earlier, so if Casey by some MIRACLE got this one correct, then...
"Casey, if the Roman numeral 'L' is doubled, the result can be represented by which other Roman numeral?"
What kind of question is that?? How can anyone know that??
Casey didn't bank before her question. If she got it wrong, she'd lose the three thousand pounds Nathan had earned. There was no way Lance would forgive her for doing this a second time. Not when the five thousand pound limit was so close! And time was running out! As he gripped his podium in his apprehension, Casey looked down at her shoes... then she answered.
Is that right? I don't know!
"Bank!" The dark-haired actress shouted.
The lights flickered and the tones of victory blared through the studio. All eight of the contestants cheered and applauded, as did every single person sitting behind them in the stands.
We did it! We actually did it!!
"Well done. You have reached and banked your five thousand pound target!" The Hostess announced, standing back and folding her arms. "The hard way," she added. "That money will be added to your running total and taken through to the next round. Unfortunately, one of you will be left behind. Who among you is intelligence intolerant? Who needs to be cut off the coattails? It's time to vote off the weakest link."
Lance found himself smacked right down to reality as the blue lights turned red and Freddy brought him his slat and the black marker. Whose name was he going to scribble down this time? For that matter, how many people had “Lance” in mind? He looked at them. The memory of his mistake echoed through his mind. It was a bad one. There was no way they didn't remember it. No way. This vote needed to be strategic. Who, aside from him, was likely to get votes from the others? He didn't want to end up like Paul, whose terrible vote cost him an opportunity to scrape through a bad round. Though he was still sour on her for her abysmal performance in round one, Casey got that ridiculous question right to secure the jackpot. Nathan got one wrong, but he got two correct. Cian? Lance let his eyes bury themselves in the back of his head when he remembered the answer that the archer gave earlier.
Miley Cyrus sang Just Dance?? GIRL.
Then it came to him.
What about Alyssa?
He remembered being frustrated with her. She made an error in this round, and one in the last round too. Both of them, he recalled, were questions in her field of expertise. If she had knowledge gaps in music and singing, then how could he rely on her to correctly answer questions about other things? Desperate to save his own skin, he scrawled down her name in bouncy, flamboyant cursive and accented it with some broken hearts. He wanted to peek at Grace and Jamie's boards, but he was too scared to see his own name on them.
The Hostess stepped back up to her podium. "Voting over, pens down. It's time to reveal who you think is the weakest link."
Cian was first. "Alyssa."
Alyssa's vote was reassuring. "Cian."
Grace's vote reassured him again. "Alyssa."
"Alyssa," Lance's shaky fingers nearly dropped his board as he flipped it over.
"Lance," Jamie announced.
"Casey," from Nathan.
"Lance," Casey voted.
"Alyssa," Eliza finished.
Lance's relief must have been evident on his face because Eliza saw it and laughed at him. Two votes for him, but four for Alyssa. He let the terror leave his body with one long, grateful exhale. Bloody Pacific ocean, living on the wrong side of America. How did he sneak away with that one? The Hostess surveyed the votes before turning to stare at the dark-skinned girl one place counterclockwise from Lance.
"Grace. Remind me again what makes you a teenage triumph."
With poise and professionalism, Grace looked the Hostess right in the eyes. "Last year, I became the youngest person ever to receive the award for Britain's Brightest Star."
"Oh, so you're a know-it-all, are you? We can count on you to answer all your questions correctly?"
"With any luck," Grace smiled politely. "I'm also the youngest person ever to compete on The Weakest Link."
"You are indeed!" The Hostess agreed, shifting her weight and pausing to let the audience applaud the clever young girl. "So, tell me how one becomes Britain's Brightest Star?"
"Well, in my case, I got perfect marks in a few different interschool exams. Calculus, complex riddles, equations. All the fun stuff," she giggled. "The local paper published an article about me, and before I knew it, the officials nominated me for the award."
"Right, and what do you do when you're not a know-it-all?"
Grace smiled shyly. "I like to read."
"Oh, how unsurprising."
"And write," the girl added.
"What do you write? Are you as important as Casey over there?"
"Certainly not. Maybe in the future. For now, I write poetry. I'd like to write a script for a play one day. I might even get Eliza to act in it," she smiled over at her friend.
"I don't know if you can afford me!" Eliza teased her.
"Why did you vote for Alyssa?" The Hostess put the conversation back on track.
Grace wasn't mean, but she was ruthless in her reply. "If we want to continue reaching our target, we need to have a consistent stream of correct answers, and I'm not confident in Alyssa's ability to do that."
The Hostess accepted this and turned to Lance. His belly squirmed. "Lance. Does Mum know that you're wearing her clothes?"
Lance laughed out loud, covering his mouth with his hand. He stepped back from his podium so the cameras could focus on him, and looked down at his skintight black denim pants, high-heeled booties and the long-sleeve silk shirt, rose-gold to match his nails, eyes and makeup. He donned two shiny copper studs in both ears and an oversized, shiny black bowtie under his collar.
"If you want, I can do your wardrobe," he replied to her with a grin.
"I don't think so!" She exclaimed. "What about your makeup? Did Mum do that for you too?"
"No, other way around. I do her makeup."
"Oh, you don't! Whatever she's done, I'm sure she doesn't deserve what you're putting her through," the Hostess continued to jeer, but Lance knew it was all in fun. He was enjoying himself. "So, what do you do?"
"I'm a model and a professional dancer."
"I see. Do you wear your mum's clothes in your photoshoots?"
He giggled. "No. Until recently, I mostly wore undergarments. Now, I get to model hairstyles and makeup and designer outfits! I've been doing shoots with Eddie Vice, Selene Locke and Pintoni, and it's just been so much fun!"
The Hostess looked genuinely interested. "So, who paid you to wear this ghastly outfit tonight?"
"Nobody! I suppose I enjoy looking like a pillock."
"And you dance, don't you?"
"Yes! Mostly ballroom, tap and ballet, sometimes in recitals, on stage--"
"Do you twerk?"
Her eyes were full of mischief, and Lance paused abruptly, flushing pink. He remembered what Ronda told him when they were preparing for the show. Do whatever the Hostess says. Indulge her.
Bloody hell. Am I going to be known forever as the guy who twerked on The Weakest Link?
"I-- I can?" He replied in a high-pitched tone that begged her not to make him do it.
"Put your board down."
Okay. This is happening.
He put the slat with Alyssa's name on it down on his podium, his face completely red underneath his layer of pale foundation. He turned around, and his eyes met his parents'. Mum was shaking, mouth open in a silent fit of laughter. Dad's eyes had disappeared into his chubby face the way they always did when something tickled his funny bone.
I'm never going to hear the end of this.
He exhaled and arched his back, wiggling and thrusting his hips and thighs to make his butt wiggle with as much grace and dignity as he could muster. Anyone who hadn't yet been laughing was now doing so heartily. Mum and Dad were redfaced, and for ten long, long seconds, Lance twerked for the camera.
If there is a God, they'll never air this footage!
When at last he turned around, all of the contestants were laughing, including Jamie and Casey. Even the stony-faced Hostess couldn't stop herself.
Well, at least I can say I was the one who made the most bitter bitch in Britain laugh!
The Hostess soon got her bearings and lost her smile... only to laugh again. When she regained control for good, she forced the show to go on.
"Okay, pick your board up. Why did you vote for Alyssa?"
"She got the music question wrong," he explained concisely.
"You answered incorrectly that round."
"I did, but my question was about the United States - something I'm not familiar with, whereas music is Alyssa's bread and butter, and I think she should have known about the violin."
He let the breath go from his lungs as the older woman turned away from him. He was pleased that he’d done some mental preparation in his obscenely lengthy shower earlier, though there was no way he could have expected her to make him twerk in front of all these people!
“Cian Millar! What is it you do?”
“I’m an athlete!” The beefcake had an easy grin on his open face.
Her cold scowl melted into a slight smirk at his reply. “You don’t say?”
“I’m on the Scottish recurve archery team!” Cian extrapolated.
“What is recurve archery?”
“It’s archery... but with a recurve bow!”
Lance wasn’t sure if Cian was taking the piss or if he was on the back foot. Either way, he was so lovable. He was the second-tallest of the contestants, a little shorter than Nathan. Lance only matched him in height because he was wearing tall shoes. But the archer was just so big! Incredibly broad-shouldered and thick with muscle, as though he’d passed time in utero with pushups and been bottle-fed protein shakes from birth. In stark contrast to the aloof Casey or the capricious Jamie, Cian never stopped smiling and having fun. It was infectious and Lance couldn’t help but feel at ease around him.
“And you’re good at archery but with a recurve bow?”
“Well, I think so! The boys and I came home with the gold!” Cian boasted, and the audience, primarily made up of local Scots, cheered loudly for their home-town hero.
“How much time a day do you spend shooting things?”
“A few hours a day every day since I was a wee lad.”
“Is that how you got your muscles?”
Cian stood up a little straighter and drew his shoulders back. “Well, archery requires a lot of upper body strength, but my family are all fitness freaks, so I’ve been playing sport and lifting weights for a very long time.”
“So, no time to listen to Lady Gaga, then?”
The blond fellow screwed his eyes shut in a very cute way as he laughed it off. “I don’t, I’m afraid. I listen to old-school rock and heavy metal. Nothing Lady Gaga.”
Now he’s three per cent less attractive. But only three.
“Is that why you voted for Alyssa?” The Hostess pointed to the girl at Cian’s left, drawing laughs from the girl herself. “You don’t like her song?”
“No! Not at all. Alyssa is a lovely girl and she has a beautiful voice!” The athlete beamed at her, and she returned it in full. “But, well, I had to vote for someone, and I remember she got a question wrong.”
"Eliza!" The Hostess barked the name before she spun her podium around, startling the brunette. "Would you sing another verse of your song for me?"
The actress wiggled her prominent eyebrows. “Do you promise to give me only the easy questions?”
“All of your questions have been easy.” The Hostess shifted her weight, propping herself up with one hand on her podium. “Put your board down.”
The tall girl obeyed with a pretty laugh, gingerly placing the voting slat down and taking a couple of seconds to prepare herself. Within moments, she was completely in character, and she continued right where she left off. From the moment the first line left her very red lips, Lance’s jaw was open in an impressed grin.After the appreciative applause from those in the studio, Eliza gave a slight bow.
“Thank you!” She addressed her peers and the crowd members when the noise died down. “But that’s all you get until the final round. I won't sing again until I've won!”
“Ooooh!” Cian erupted loudly from the other side of the curve.
"Do you think you're clever enough to win?" The Hostess asked her. Eliza nodded. "Clever enough to beat the significantly important Casey and the know-it-all Grace?"
"We won't know until after the next few rounds," Eliza gave a cryptic answer.
She's a professional backstabber, Lance reminded himself. I don't want to end up like the first Ursula - the one whose job she took without a second thought.
"Why have you voted for Alyssa? Are you jealous that she can sing better than you can?"
“That’s a weird thing to say after you made me sing for you twice! But Alyssa has so much talent. I enjoyed Whispers in my Dreams very much," Eliza corrected her, and Alyssa thanked her from the other side of the curve. "Unfortunately, she keeps giving incorrect answers. That's why I voted for her."
"Alyssa!" The Hostess finally rounded on the pop singer, whose eyes had not lost their luster even after the team revealed their votes. "You were statistically the worst player, and the team has decided that you’ve sung your swansong. With four votes, you are the weakest link. Goodbye."
Better her than me.
The audience applauded, and Alyssa dropped her voting board with Cian's name down on the podium, brushed her long hair over her shoulders, and began the strut of shame, blue dress flowing elegantly around her legs. She vanished through the studio doors, and Lance wasn't going to miss her.